From the City to the Wilderness
December 9, 2022
Dusty Toyota trucks, detailed luxury sedans, and puttering mopeds. Throw these together with countless pedestrians in the winding streets of Bethlehem, and you get a cacophony of sound and activity that would rival even the busiest of days in Time Square. Walking through the streets, one notices that the locals speak Arabic, English, French…and car horn (fluently). What one does not notice is the “little town of Bethlehem” so often sung about at Christmas time. Yet despite all the noise, one gets the sense that there is something about this place that whispers the presence of God. Walking through the narrow streets filled with shopkeepers doing their best to draw your attention, you arrive at the Church of the Nativity feeling finally free of the outside noise only to be confronted with the dull roar of hundreds of people doing their best to speak with each other with their “inside voices.” You shuffle through the crowd of people until you get a solid three seconds to touch the spot where the Savior was born.
Recently, we took a day trip to the monastery of Mar Saba. Established by St. Sabas in 502 AD, the monastery sits in the Kidron valley on the very edge of the Judaean wilderness. St. Sabas, like countless other monks and hermits, left the hustle and bustle of the city for the silence of the wilderness in search of hearing the whisper of God more clearly. The nine monks that inhabit the monastery now are part of the oldest perpetually inhabited monastery of the Christian world. But instead of the silence of the desert, the monks encounter hundreds of pilgrims who come to reverence the relics of St. Sabas and to see the beautiful desert scenery. Truly a beautiful sacrifice of love on the part of these monks – I am sure they would rather sit in silence with the Lord.
The monks offer us a clear imperative: to seek the Lord in silence! I say imperative because our Lord himself tells us to close the door of our rooms and pray to our Father in secret (Matthew 6:6). To seek interior silence is consequently not reserved to monks and “holy people.” It’s for all of us – and all of us can seek after it. Not all of us can retreat to a desert monastery, but all of us are familiar with the noise of daily life. The pilgrimage of the heart is to seek after silence in order to hear God’s voice. This can truly be done. Why? Because in the dark streets of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a man. He was born in a cave and laid in silence in the food trough for animals. In time, his feet became strong, and he walked among us in this land in search of resting places in the homes of men. Now he stands at the door to our hearts and begs us for refuge within. In response to our charity, he will give us his peace as he is laid to rest in the silence of our hearts.
Please be assured of my continued prayers for all who read this blog, and in your charity pray for us as we continue our pilgrimage.
By: Jacob Hugo
Diocese of Saganaw, MI